September 2016 Issue

Pros & Cons of Daily Multivitamins

Is taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement a worthwhile habit? EN explores the pros and cons.

Multivitamin/mineral supplements are often viewed as insurance against nutrient gaps in the diet. But while surveys show that most Americans’ diets fall short in one or more nutrients, the evidence that taking a daily multi might help prevent disease is mixed. Despite the lack of solid proof, 33-70 percent of all Americans take a multi in the hope that it will make a positive health impact and reduce the risk for health conditions, such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease (CVD).

What exactly is a multivitamin and mineral supplement? The National Institutes of Health defines them as any supplement that does not contain herbs, hormones, or drugs, but contains three or more vitamins and minerals, each present at or below a level determined safe by the National Academy of Sciences’ Food and Nutrition Board. Many multis contain most of the vitamins and minerals that are known to be required by the body.

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Look for the USP symbol on the label as a sign your multi meets certain standards

Here are a few pros and cons for taking a daily multi that may help you make a healthy decision.

Pros of Taking Multivitamins

They’re safe.

A review, published earlier this year in the journal Nutrition, provided the strongest evidence to date that taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement poses no risk to health as some large-dose, single supplements do.

They’re affordable.

Multis generally cost only 10-30 cents a day, though they can cost much more if you choose organic, natural, or food-based brands. There is no evidence that the more expensive brands provide any additional benefits.

They fill in nutrient gaps if your diet isn’t up to par.

Few of us eat perfectly balanced diets, full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains every day, but multis can boost your intake of essential vitamins and minerals and bring you closer to recommended intakes for optimal health.

They may reduce the risk of heart disease.

A study published in The Journal of Nutrition found lower risk of CVD with long-term use (20 years or more). Other research shows a possible reduction in cancer and cataracts for regular multi users. Whether or not filling nutrient gaps with a multi lessens risk for other diseases has not yet been proven.

They may reduce cognitive decline.

Cognitive decline may be slowed in older individuals, at least over the short term, according to research.

Cons of Taking Multivitamins

They may be unnecessary.

Not to mention a waste of money—if you already have a nutrient-dense diet (lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains).

They may lead you into thinking you’ve got your nutrition bases covered.

There are tons of natural compounds in foods beyond vitamins and minerals, such as resveratrol, anthocyanins and lignans, that may contribute to disease prevention and that you won’t find in multis.

They don’t provide everything.

For example, multis would be impossible to swallow if they contained the daily recommended amount of calcium.

They may be hard to get down.

Some multis may be hard to swallow, even without the full amount of calcium.

They may not be highly bioavailable.

There is no mandatory standard for bioavailability (how available the nutrients are to the body) of multis, and bioavailability isn’t consistent across products. However, multis that display the US Pharmacopeial (USP) mark, have met the USP’s standards for dissolvability, one indication of bioavailability.